Archive for the ‘Fanatico Special’ Category

MASHGameOh, sure. You never played MASH. You were far too cool to imagine a life with your grade five crush, in which you lived in a house with five children and drove a submarine around. You didn’t purposefully pick a number between one and twenty that would mathematically ensure Natalie Anderson’s name would be the last one remaining. And you definitely didn’t ask your friend to tell Natalie how the MASH game went, gauge her reaction and then report back. No way.

Grade school crushes, much like sports, were of the utmost importance to us as children, but as we matured, our relationships to both altered. Crushes changed into attraction, and sports – depending on how much you’ve managed develop – went from being an obsession to a distraction, an outlet to plug in and recharge.

Nonetheless, despite our supposed level maturity, we occasionally revert back to grade school crushes and attaching too much importance on the outcomes of sporting events. Typically, this leads to disaster in our personal relationships and levels of disappointment to which we were previously unaccustomed.

Fear not. There is a safe way to regress back to childhood when crushes were everything, and the results of games were meaningful. All you have to do is click on the Vines below, and wherever it stops will inform your destiny as a sports fan.

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Ed O''BannonThe 1995 NBA Draft was held in Toronto, and when the expansion Raptors selected Damon Stoudamire with the seventh overall pick, the assembled crowd of local fans, lacking the education that a single season of professional basketball at the elite level might provide, booed because they wanted the team to draft Ed O’Bannon. Never mind the fact that Stoudamire and O’Bannon were PAC-10 Co-Players of the Year. Three months earlier, they had all learned of O’Bannon’s story during UCLA’s National Championship run through the NCAA Tournament, for which the 6’8″ forward was named Most Outstanding Player.

A matter of days before his first Midnight Madness practice at UCLA, the 6’8″ forward tore his ACL in a game of pickup hoops. He was told by doctors that the injury wouldn’t allow him to walk properly, let alone pursue a career playing basketball. However, he persevered through a redshirt year of rehab and emerged as a capable substitute in his freshman season. His sophomore campaign saw him named to the PAC-10 first team. It was an honor he’d repeat in his junior year, along with being named UCLA’s Most Valuable Player.

As impressive as his turnaround was, it was all just a lead up to O’Bannon’s senior year in which he led the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA Basketball Championship, collecting multiple honors along the way including yet another place in the PAC-10 first team, a consensus nod as a first team All-American, the aforementioned PAC-10 Player of the Year, and the USBWA College Player of the Year award. It was a successful enough season to make his name not only known to the majority of sports fans in a Canadian city more than 2,500 miles away from where he played College Basketball, but also actively coveted as the face of their new NBA franchise.

O’Bannon was eventually selected ninth overall by the New Jersey Nets. He was largely ineffective as a professional: too small to play the post, not quick enough to play the perimeter. He spent two seasons in the NBA, was traded twice and released. He toured around Europe, playing basketball in Spain, Greece and Poland. He even played a season in Argentina before retiring from professional basketball. From there, he worked as a car salesman, becoming the dealership’s marketing director before finishing the degree he started at UCLA.

Now, he leads a comfortable, but not extravagant life with his wife and three children, far removed from the glory days of the past. It might therefore be considered surprising that it is at this stage in his life that O’Bannon stands to make a greater impact on college sports in the United States than any athlete before him by forever altering how amateur athletics are defined in the country.

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GOLF-US-MASTERS-PAR 3As a child, I despised calling on other children. I dreaded the awkward interaction with parents, the strangely inherent sense of authority held over me by a complete stranger and the feeling that I was interrupting or presenting an imposition with my request to hang out with their offspring.

I vividly remember an uncomfortable moment from my childhood in which I knocked on the door of my friend Mark, who lived in my neighborhood. His mother answered, and when I asked her if Mark could come and play, she said something incoherent to me about baseball. I informed her that yes, it was entirely possible that we might play baseball, and then we stood silently in the foyer of her home for what seemed like ten minutes.

Finally, she told me to come back another time, and so I left, certain that Mark’s mother was a little bit deranged. Walking home, friendless, I pieced together the words I knew she said to me from our awkward exchange with the words she might have spoken. The results of my word investigation revealed that I had failed to understand Mark couldn’t waste time with me because he was practicing baseball.

I thought about how absurd it was to practice something like baseball. It seemed like homework, something I avoided by playing baseball. In my mind, putting effort into getting better at a game defeated the whole purpose of playing the game. Later, when Mark emerged as the best player on our baseball team, I justified his superiority on the field by the fact that he practiced. I reconciled the gulf in ability between us by saying to myself that I could be just as good if I was willing to lower myself to actually trying to do so.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my internal rationalization was similar to the underlying principles of the grotesque modern Olympic ideal. Masked in the false virtues of amateurism, superior athletes who competed professionally were outcast in favor of those who leaned on their own means to fund a more leisurely training, or had the political gravitas of an aristocratic surname that was able to induce government investment in their recreation.

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amen_cornerA little over four years ago I took a puck to the jaw and found myself confined to the couch with metal threads running between my teeth, my mouth clamped shut and mind foggy with painkillers. I had been wired together, and I wasn’t going to be doing much for a while. I started writing.

When you first start your own blog, the freedom is overwhelming. Nobody is reading, nobody is editing, and your scope is vast. I chose to write about stand-up comedy, documentaries, and golf, an array of topics bound to attract roughly no one when mashed together potpourri-style. I sprinkled the blog with hockey for flavor (and the interest of some buddies), but I enjoyed nothing like I enjoyed writing about golf.

And lo, Why I Love The Masters was born.

I wrote it on February 23rd, 2009, to nobody, a stream-of-conscious pile of honesty that took me about ten minutes to hack out, and I’ve since linked to it approximately 11,000 times to explain a few of the things that make me love the Masters so much.

The Masters, Augusta National and all its layers aren’t perfect. But neither is the NCAA and March Madness. Neither is the NFL, neither is the NHL, and neither is Major League Baseball. Few things in life are. But for these four days in April, The Masters feels like it.

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227673There was a specific point in my life when I understood that I wasn’t nearly as clever as I had previously believed myself to be. This is likely not a unique phenomenon. In fact, I’m fairly confident most of us refer to this realization as “growing up.” Instead of evolutionary metaphors, I liken it to a headache stopping, because it seems to happen suddenly, but recalling the exact moment it occurred is impossible. Nonetheless, one’s condition is greatly improved after it happens.

It’s an introduction to doubt, a term that seems to possess a negative connotation for many, but for me it’s a positive governing force. It causes introspection and prompts me to take stock of my internal inventory from time to time. This is a necessity for someone who tends to develop tunnel vision that directs them toward a specific goal at the cost of everything else on the periphery.

My latest binge of self-examination began last week when my fiancé’s grandfather died. We weren’t particularly close. I had only interacted with him a handful of times. However, as a result of his death – as untimely as one’s end can be after more than 80 years of life – I spent several days around people whom I care a great deal about while they were mourning. After a dragged out process that included three separate days for a visitation, a funeral and a burial, I began to realize that what I felt for those around me was sympathy and not empathy.

The difference between these two often confused terms is that sympathy refers to an acknowledgement of another person’s emotional state, while empathy refers to an understanding of what someone else is feeling because you have experienced it yourself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have never experienced the type of sadness felt by losing a loved one.

By now, you’re probably saying “Cool story, bro;” or asking, “So, what does this pedantic bit of pseudo-psychological self-indulgence have to do with sports?” Bear with me for just a little bit longer.

As I reflected on my lack of experience with death, I came upon a pathetic realization that the losses to which I was most familiar with had to do with sports. In fact, I was certain that I had probably even used the term “heart-breaking loss” before to describe the outcome of a game. Such an exaggerated description was rendered suddenly disgusting.

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gambling header14-years-old is an awful age to go on a family vacation. No one understands your oh-so-unique struggle to grow up. Your body’s chemistry is changing more than Barry Bonds on a regimen of Victor Conte-prescribed elixirs. And you hate everything.

You hate school. You hate your teachers. You hate your friends. You hate the person on whom you have a crush. You even hate the band that like totally gets you. You hate the world. But above all else you hate your family and you hate restrictions. Traveling and living in close quarters with your mom, dad, brother and sister or whatever combination of that set best describes your specific situation growing up is nothing short of detestable.

We’re pretty disgusting creatures when we’re 14 – old enough to be cynical, but too inexperienced to properly apply our criticisms to anything constructive.

It was at this age, on a family vacation to Florida, that my first experience with gambling occurred. On a day in which the rest of my family was going on a helicopter tour, motivated by the $100 in savings found in not having me along, I was allowed a day to myself. Of course, I spent the afternoon at a greyhound racetrack, where the adage that misery loves company is tested by the collective self-loathing making those in attendance incapable of loving anything.

It took a dozen races for me to work up enough courage to attempt to place a bet. I was underage, and if my pimply baby-face didn’t give that fact away, my complete and utter lack of confidence would have. I stood in line for less than 30 seconds before an older gentleman – a gentleman only relative to the others in attendance – pulled me aside to inform me that a greyhound had a better chance of placing a bet on himself than I did. He offered to wager for me.

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Generally speaking, sports writing sucks.

How often do you read something about sports and think that it’s stupid or else accept its many flaws because, well, it’s sports writing? Now, compare that to the number of times you’ve read something about sports, and it altered your perspective or confirmed something that you felt, but couldn’t necessarily express? The latter happens so rarely that what should be the rule has become the exception.

For many years, sports writers have gotten away with sloppy articles and poorly formed opinions because most of their readers consider sports to be a diversion, and until recently, only the sports writers themselves could provide their audience with the framework necessary to make that distraction function. Casual interest and controlled context combined to form an indolent system of tainted information proclamation that resulted in the proliferation of stupidity and hokum, rather than reason and consideration.

… and then, the internet.

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